The US war in Iraq continues to get more complex as easily foreseeable situations emerge and the Pentagon has no answers for them. The latest problem is that ISIS targets, which were mostly conspicuous at the start of the war, are starting to blend in with the local population.
Since ISIS got its start as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), it was pretty obvious that they were experienced in insurgent-style tactics in addition to the recent dalliances with behaving like a traditional army, and when airstrikes started picking up it was only a matter of time before they’d vanish.
Launching intermittent airstrikes against targets of opportunity wasn’t exactly a strategy to begin with, and now that those targets are behaving more discreetly, the policy is even less effective.
The Sunday news show circuit centered on hawks pushing even more aggressive airstrikes, even though it’s getting harder and harder to come up with targets for those strikes.
The problem is that there simply is no strategy for victory, and that the war itself was launched on the notion of “doing something” without any clear idea how to accomplish anything.
Having dragged the country into this war, the administration is now faced with the reality that it isn’t working, and growing calls from hawkish rivals to double down, because if doing something doesn’t work, they figure the answer is to do it even more.
With the administration still trying to claim credit for “successes” that didn’t really happen, like “rescuing” people who weren’t really trapped on Mount Sinjar, the notion that they can expand on that success will continue to linger among policy makers.
So far, President Obama seems to have recognized his own narrative for the nonsense it is, and resisted runaway escalation of the conflict. How long that lasts remains to be seen, as officials are liable to mistake phony victories for the unachievable real ones, or at any rate to figure that one sells as good to the public as the other.